Mexican Armed Forces Make Headway on Gender Equality

Mexican Armed Forces Make Headway on Gender Equality

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
May 03, 2018

The Mexican Army and Air Force tripled the number of women in their ranks.

The Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA, in Spanish) is promoting female participation in the Mexican Army and Air Force. In 2018, there were nearly 19,000 women in the armed services. By contrast, in 2008, only 6,300 served. The mission now is to increase the level of female representation to 25,000 by the end of 2018.

“The process of equality is reinforced by the National Development Plan, [which] sets out the vision on gender. For the first time, the plan focuses its policies, programs, and resources on achieving equality, not just giving it lip service,” Mexican Army Lieutenant Colonel Yadira Paredes Rojas, head of the Mexican Army and Air Force Observatory for Gender Equity and Equality, told Diálogo. “We women make up only 9 percent of the number of male SEDENA service members. Our challenge is to reach 12 percent of the total personnel by the end of the current administration.”

Women’s incorporation into the armed services spiked—particularly in the fields of nursing and administration—since the department rolled out its new equity procedures in 2007. “Women began to have more dynamic involvement in operational and tactical areas, spaces that [were] traditionally for men,” Mexican Army Brigadier General Martha Patricia Fernández Guzmán, commandant of SEDENA’s Military School of Medicine, told Diálogo. Brig. Gen. Fernández is one of five female generals on active duty in the country, and on March 1, 2018, she became the first woman to head up a military academy.

“Significant changes to the educational system and a transformation of infrastructure that was basically tailored for men accompanied this whole effort,” Brig. Gen. Fernández added. “I’m a faithful witness to the cultural transformation that has taken place in terms of gender inclusion.”

With the reforms ushered in by the Army and Air Force Military Education Act of 2005, opportunities for women increased on military campuses such as the War College, the Military Weapons Training School, the Army Academy, and the Air Force Academy. SEDENA has female pilots, paratroopers, riflemen, sappers, special forces, and military police.

Today, military women can serve at all levels of the high command. “Thanks to SEDENA’s progress, women ceased to merely carry out orders and became decision-makers, holding positions such as directors and assistant directors of hospitals and educational institutions, military judges, and commanders of troops, battalions, and aircraft,” Lt. Col. Paredes said. “This effort makes women more empowered, and it ensures that conditions of equality that benefit the institution are more visible and more evident.”

Awareness and training

To promote the equitable participation of women, “SEDENA prioritizes ongoing awareness and training efforts for leaders at all levels throughout the country, because we know that this issue has an important cultural and educational component,” Lt. Col. Paredes said. “Military personnel are [educated] at various public and private universities, both Mexican and international, on issues of gender perspectives, policy implementation, masculinity, bullying and sexual harassment prevention, shared family responsibility, and violence prevention.”

The Mexican Army and Air Force literatures are being reviewed to adjust discriminatory language. Likewise, military doctrine already uses inclusive, non-sexist language so that women are treated with consideration at all levels.

“The equality processes underway are widely accepted by men, regardless of their military rank. Once a woman begins working shoulder to shoulder [with a male partner], you can see how this was necessary. [It’s] enriching and it’s better for everyone, because the work is finally being more equally shared,” Lt. Col. Paredes said. “Likewise, we got other institutions, such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to open up and view us [positively] because of our improvement on this issue,” Brig. Gen. Fernández added.

Paradigm shift

Female inclusion in the Mexican Armed Forces benefited male personnel. Since September 2017, the Military School of Nursing (formerly the Military School for Nurses) opened its doors to men to earn their degree. The academic institution exclusively catered to women for nearly eight decades. “There’s been a paradigm shift. Nursing is no longer done only by women but also by men—and surely they do it very well,” Lt. Col. Paredes said.

“Paternity leave also influences this change—not just in the practical sense, but on a structural paradigm level, where gender stereotypes are broken and the system starts to become more inclusive, egalitarian, and respectful,” Lt. Col. Paredes said. “Our vision is to increase the presence of women in all fields. The call for women to join the military has been met with widespread acceptance. Mexican women want to join the Armed Forces,” Brig. Gen. Fernández said.

Glass ceilings

Mexico also recognizes the importance of women in other armed forces around the world. In November 2017, SEDENA held a workshop called the International Seminar on Women’s Participation in the World’s Armies to illustrate the development and contributions of women in the armed forces and lay out a gender perspective framework. Twenty-four countries from the Americas, Europe and Asia, with representatives from the Inter-American Defense Board, attended the event.

“Through the inclusion of women in the armed forces, glass ceilings are [being broken] worldwide. We’re half of the world’s population. The most important thing, now that these levels have been reached, is to not close the door to the women coming behind us. What matters is to expand expectations for our children, our families, and our country,” Brig. Gen. Fernández concluded. “We’ve come a long way—and there is still a ways to go—but we have to carry on and continue working with the same openness and enthusiasm.”